Party of Hatred

Anti-Lega graffitii. Torino, December 2018.

Heading into the March regional elections, the political landscape in the Veneto, one of Italy’s most politically and economically important regions, displays a dominant centre-right coalition headed by a Northern League (LN) candidate and a weak and disorganized centre-left opposition.

The Northern League party is strong and growing stronger both in relation to the opposition and within its centre-right coalition, due to increasing popular support for hard-line positions on security and immigration;

With gubernatorial elections coming up on March 28-29, the Northern League (LN) party is in an extremely strong position in the economically and politically important Veneto region, both within its centre-right coalition and vis — vis the centre-left opposition.

Crucial to the LN’s regional appeal is its connection to the territory and its use of a unique, sometimes crude political rhetoric that appeals to Veneto voters. Home to the historically powerful and independent city-state of Venice, the Veneto maintains an identity that is proud of its achievements, especially in the economic realm and is wary of outside interference.

Northern League founder and leader Umberto Bossi has successfully parlayed the LN’s flagship issue, fiscal federalism, into a broader platform of security and protection from outside threats, linking the rise in immigration with crime, unemployment, and a general degradation of Italian cultural identity.

This political formula holds continued appeal for the LN’s traditional electoral base, the small- and medium-sized business owners who make up the economic fabric of the Veneto, but this savvy platform fusing fiscal federalism and immigration has also had growing resonance with workers, a traditionally leftist bloc, whom LN leaders assert no longer feel “protected” by the Partito Democratico (PD) and other parties.

The LN has made an increasingly convincing argument that unfairly high taxes imposed by Rome put people out of business and that immigrant workers take Italian jobs. Recently this second claim has been especially compelling, given the ever higher number of immigrants arriving in the Veneto and the global economic crisis, which has led to many job losses in the

LN rhetoric about immigration ranges from slightly protectionist to overtly xenophobic, and the LN has successfully linked immigrants to crime in the minds of an increasingly large swath of voters. LN policies at the local levels often focus on expelling illegal immigrants and “cleaning up” the often run-down neighbourhoods in which they live – measures that citizens often perceive, in practical terms, as cleaning up the streets, reducing crime, and generally improving the quality of life.

The opposition refutes the logic behind these measures as well as claims about their effectiveness, but even they admit that on the issue of security, the Northern League is king. A PD official from the city of Treviso noted that economic insecurity in Italy is the more salient issue, especially in the recent downturn, but that the LN has seized on physical security as its issue, which is easier to explain to voters and has translated it into political gain.

Although many LN leaders would be reluctant to admit it, the Northern League in the Veneto draws heavily from Italy, s former communist tradition and has retained that close, grass-roots connection to the electorate; supporters across the region refer glowingly to the LN as the only “party of the masses” and “party of the people” currently the country.

The LN has continued to expand its physical presence with numerous, accessible party offices and outposts that also double as community centres. LN leaders and voters alike boast that their mayors and councilmen are always out and about, talking to people and maintaining a personal relationship with their constituents – practising what hugely popular Verona mayor Flavio Tosi has termed “supermarket politics”.

The LN’s pervasive reputation for good public administration seems to stem directly from this responsiveness, accessibility, and visibility. Furthermore – largely due to its strong physical presence and proactive outreach in the region – the Northern League has successfully courted the youth vote and seems to be making great progress in cultivating the next generation of LN voters.

With a strong enough showing in the March elections, and without a solid opposition to block such measures, the LN could be in an even more powerful position to influence Italian national policy and assert its own security-based, anti-immigrant political ideology.

Adapted from a US State Department diplomatic cable (2010).  Published under a Creative Commons license. Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.